Berlin, 1966

Telefunken-Palmer-Caine-funeral-in-berlin-600-LJC

Agent Harry Palmer, Funeral in Berlin (1966)

Telefunken-logo-ECC83

Telefunken ECC83 valve (made in  Berlin, 1966)

Just arrived at LJC, a pair of the mighty Telefunken ECC83’s, known in the US as 12AX7’s, “new old stock” (NOS), mint unused matched pairs from 1966. Time-machine delivery.

1966What’s so special?  Valves made in 1966. Music recorded in the mid ’60s pumped from vinyl pressed in the mid ’60’s into valves manufactured in the mid ’60s, everything talks the same language: electrons dance, a match made in audio heaven.

Telefunken

Telefunken are arguably the most famous valve manufacture in the world and its two valve manufacturing factories are no longer with us, disappeared, like most of the analog music technology of the golden era – Ampex, Scully, and  Plastylite. Valves such as Telefunken’s ECC83s and the smooth plate 12AX7 are considered as being best of their kind, delivering ultra-wide dynamic range with an almost delicate transparency. That’s what I am hearing.

Quite a few of the records I have play-tested since these tubes went into the phono amp have gone up in my estimation, particularly those that had question marks over audio quality. For example, a late  ’70’s Miles Davis second-press on the red Columbia-all-round later label sounded, well, quite delicious. It is a bit like upgrading your record collection.

Vacuum Tubes “essential”

Vacuum tubes are now the essential hipster accessory, more so even than a beard, geek-chic glasses, or an East London postcode.  The mere presence of valves in your music-reproduction chain show you are musically hip and have a deep understanding of “tube music magic”. Needless to say it is only a question of time until a valve based smart phone arrives, but until then…

Tube Economics 

 I have read that the economics of vacuum tube manufacture on an industrial scale, for such a small specialised market,  is such that it is not practical (possibly outside of China). This makes vintage tubes particularly valuable – meaning expensive for what they are, but in the context of the cost of many hi-fi components, relatively cheap, especially considering the sonic improvement.

ECC83’s close up

Telefunken-ECC83-NOS-Berlin-1966--matched-pair--55mm-1800-LJC

Standing just 55mm high, these valves have a special place in the music reproduction chain, sitting as they do in the phono amp as the point of contact between the MC cartridge output and the pre-amplifier. They  determine the signal quality that is passed upstream to the stronger amplification stages. What happens here is magnified many-fold later. Cuts both ways, bad sounds worse, good sounds better.

Genuine Telefunken

Mark of authenticity: the Telefunken “diamond” cut in the glass circle encircled by the pins. Genuine TFK valves, made in either the  Ulm or former West-Berlin Telefunken factories, have the diamond in bottom and a 7-digit Telefunken code that starts with “B”-capital (Berlin-factory) or “U”-capital (Ulm-factory), and a complex algorithm which decodes into the date of manufacture

Telefunken ceased their own valve production around 1977-1978, moving to outsourcing , with deteriorating quality result, allegedly.  Many tube-enthusiasts report  knock-off Telefunken copies, or claimed Telefunken manufacture which fail the “diamond” test – the diamond shape cut into the glass seen below.

Telefunken-ECC83--12AX7-diamond-1800-LJC

Telefunken manufacturers codes:

Telefunken-code-mnf-Berlin-December-13-1966Berlin, December 13, 1966

Telefunken – historical context

Valves were made for reproducing jazz…to judge from this ’50s German TV ad – which sails uncomfortably close to “stereotyping” black music, but this was a different world, and a step change from the previous decade and wartime Nazi ban on  jazz as “degenerate art”. The valves play music, jazz, that’s surely right.

Telefunken ad tv3 Telefunken. It’s New – it’s Old New.

Telefunken ad tv5 neue TFK

LJC thinks:

LJC-Lichael-Caine-fastshow30I marvel at the way post-war German technology (both valves and microphones) and American personal creative expression came together to give people the opportunity to record and hear this great music in the home. I am saddened how much this has been discarded in favour of convenience (the playlist), back ground music (multi-tasking) , and the distribution model (MP3 download), inevitable or otherwise.

But I have faith in the hipsters. There is one thing you can rely on, and that is the smart bearded ones, with their East London postcode address with a valve in their system, are the future. For now, anyway.

The KFC-bucket barbarians are forever knocking at the gates.

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20 thoughts on “Berlin, 1966

  1. I must say, LJC, all these fancy hi-fi additions of yours make me curious about my own setup. when i travel to london someday, i simply MUST have a listen to this hi-fi oasis.

  2. Don’t forget Mullard. My (Croft) phonostage has two CV4004 ECC83s, and they are sweet but also very accurate. I love them but they are very expensive to replace. They do seem to last very well though. Cartridge is by Len Gregory (Cartridgeman Musicmaker Classic) in a Hadcock GH442 Arm. These and 50s/60s jazz on vinyl are made for each other..

  3. I absolutely love Telefunken Tubes! I have Blue and red tip medical grades as well as a vast collection of long plates and ribbed plates ecc83 and ecc82. Enough to last me until the end of my days.

      • nice vid, mig! LJC, sorry to say, but the barbarians OWN the gates, and it is only a matter of time before they bring them back down on us again! So enjoy as much as you can, those teles are quite nice, got several pairs of ribbed and smooth plates, still come across them in the wild now and then…

  4. What a great read. You wonder where they find these genuine, unused, over forty years old valves?

    The only tubes in my house can be found in my Marshall guitar amplifier, that’s it. It’s a monster, with a magnificent, pearly sound and it still delivers after more than twenty years. The charming thing with the tubes is that they have to warm up first before you can play – just like that good old Grundig tube radio of my late grandpa.

    If only I had the dough for a setup like yours, LJC 🙂

  5. I’d just like to share with you my enthusiasm for Berlin. I worked there, on trombone, in the early Seventies and it really was a terrific place. Having seen so many images of devastation from bombing and Russian guns I was amazed to see how many of the old buildings were still intact. Our hotel had a huge, winding staircase with the old interior fittings – sinks, baths etc. – still in place. The most remarkable thing was the width of some of the streets. The city was conceived on a grand scale. The Cold War (not the one that’s brewing now) was still on which intensified the atmosphere. There were sidewalk cafes with the aroma of coffee and cigars. You could have a good holiday there. There were parks and lakes, probably still there, and trees everywhere. We played for the American servicemen and their wives at Andrews barracks and after we did our backing set with Oscar Tony Junior they paid us $50 to do an hour of our own stuff for dancing. I’d met up with a girl I met in Hamburg so the band left without me, leaving me with the problem of phoning around from a ‘phone box trying to get a taxi on a Saturday night, which proved to be impossible, so I cadged a lift from a black serviceman in a Buick. Happy days!!

  6. Old valves are special, I totally agree with you. i have the Telefunken’s in my Power Amp input stage, found them too transparent for my phono stage. In the phono I use Philips/Amperex tubes. It’s fun trying different ones until you get the sound right. Glad you went true analog after your true mono move!

    • Quote: “Glad you went true analog…” – Can you explain why a valve should be more “analog” (= less “digital”) than a semiconductor? Whether something is either analog or digital has nothing to do with the technology you are using. You can make computers out of valves if you can pay for the necessary hardware and power supply.

      • The earliest computers were indeed valve-driven. The Bletchley Park “Collossus” was driiven by 1500! and it was considered best practice to conserve them by leaving everything switched on.

      • You are right! I was speaking conceptually. We spend most of the time listening here to records that were recorded in the 50’s and 60’s, cut from tape going through valve based systems. And meant to be reproduced using valves, mono carts etc. That’s what I am trying to create in my system, and I use valves in every stage. I call this old-school style ‘true-analog’, which obviously is complete nonsense

  7. Glad it’s not just nostalgia but better sound you’re getting. I’ve always been put off valves because I’d imagine my anxiety over accidentally damaging the valves would impair my enjoyment of the sound they might give.

    • I’m happy for you, LJC, but I’m essentially with Adrian on this. Valves would (at least for me) simply introduce another tier of anxiety — have I damaged them, are they wearing out, are they the best, where will I get more from, would different ones be better…? It would drive me nuts — if I let it. So I stick with the most modest (but not quite the cheapest) hi-fi I can — it ‘satisfies’, as I think the business gurus say.

      And anyway, whileI admire those who can hear “tube-y magic”, I don’t have a clue how it works. Yet something else to worry about — as I get older I find I am starting to worry more rather than less about things that I know there isn’t sufficient time left to understand…

      Anyway, on an entirely different note, it’s great to see that the re is an acceptable reissue just out of Charlie Hayden/Paul Motian/Geri Allen’s ETUDES (£20.00 on 180gm vinyl incl a CD). I haven’t been able to find an original ETUDES anywhere, and then just the other day it popped up in my searches. What a great piano trio record — its reissue hugely overdue.

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